The off-season is here, but without much of the drama that surrounded the Royals last winter. We’ll spare you the dozens of articles about where Eric Hosmer will sign this year, as the Royals don’t have any big-time free agents to worry about this season.
After a 100-loss season the team will look to capitalize on some good play late on the year and significantly improve next season. As we head into the hot stove season, here are seven predictions on the off-season for the Royals.
Whit ain’t goin’ nowhere
The Royals are taking the stance with Whit that they frequently take with players - “we’re not trading this guy unless we get blown away with an offer.” It makes sense, the Royals don’t need to trade Whit Merrifield (except he may be at his peak value so there may be a tiny bit of urgency). There are a few teams that could use him - the Cubs have been mentioned the most. His salary and controllable years will be attractive.
Still, teams seem to be offering less in prospect hauls than they used to, so I wouldn’t expect the Royals to get blown away by an offer. I think Dayton Moore truly was embarrassed by last season and wants to get out of the cellar as soon as possible. Whit Merrifield is a very valuable player and pretty much everything the Royals love in a player. It is hard to see Dayton Moore parting with him any time soon.
That doesn’t mean Whit won’t ever get traded. Rustin Dodd wrote that the Royals will know more about their situation in a year. Nicky Lopez could prove to be a Major League-ready second baseman by then. Or maybe a Major League-ready second baseman emerges for their #2 overall pick in the 2019 draft. Maybe the front office will realize the team is further from contention than they thought. Who knows. But I don’t think Whit gets dealt this winter.
The only free agents coming here are on one-year deals
Dayton Moore has stressed the desire to get his financial situation in order, which means not making things worse by signing any more multi-year deals with free agents. The Royals supposedly want to get to about $85-90 million in payroll, and are pretty close to that already with their current players. Moore has said if the team dips into free agency it will be later in the off-season, with an eye towards “guys on the rebound”, likely relievers.
Adding bullpen depth makes sense, relief staff was terrible last year and there aren’t many young arms other than Richard Lovelady ready to come up. You can see a list of free agents here, but you’ll probably need to look in the bargain bin for the guys that are future Royals. Randall Delgado, Jordan Lyles, Zach McAllister, A.J. Ramos, Tyson Ross, and Carson Smith are the kind of guys you can expect the Royals to kick the tires on.
Yep, Alcides Escobar is coming back
This is the tenure that never ends, it just goes on and on, my friends. The Royals will need a reserve shortstop next year that can rest Adalberto Mondesi, who still has durability questions about him. Ramon Torres was outrighted off the roster, and Nicky Lopez is no sure bet to make the Major League roster next year, so most likely the Royals will need to bring in an external option.
Escobar would likely be a cheap option that can fill in all over the field, and provide that veteran leadership the Royals covet so much. I don’t think Escobar would get 500 plate appearances again (Ned Yost replies “challenge accepted!”) but if the Royals bring in a veteran to be a reserve infielder, why not the 2015 ALCS MVP? ESKY MAGIC 4EVR!
The Royals will trade for a young hitter
The Royals were third-worst in the American League in runs scored, and while they did improve over the last six weeks with young hitters like Ryan O’Hearn in the lineup, they could certainly use some more offensive punch. The lineup may seem like it is mostly set, but the Royals still have a lot of question marks on the field. Was Hunter Dozier’s late-season surge a mirage? Is Brett Phillips overwhelmed by Major League pitching? What happened to Jorge Bonifacio’s power? Can Jorge Soler stay on the field?
It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Royals get add some more offensive depth and create competition. Most likely they would target a younger player who won’t take much to acquire, guys that are potential non-tender candidates. It will beomeone with limited success at the MLB level, but with enough red flags to be on the outs with their current team, and young enough to plausibly be part of a rebuild. Avisail Garcia has been on the shopping block, could he push Bonifacio in right field? Ryon Healy was discussed last summer, would he still fit in with Ryan O’Hearn at first base, or could they platoon?
Christian Villanueva could be losing his job in San Diego, so could he be in the mix at third as an upgrade over Cuthbert with Dozier acting as a utility player? Perhaps the team would like to add speed in center with Delino DeShields or Travis Jankowski. They already acquired Brian Goodwin from the Nationals outfield, could Michael Taylor be next?
It may seem like the Royals have a crowded roster right now, but these things have a way of working themselves out, and having depth, particularly young-ish players, will help this team avoid 100 losses and build for the future.
Adalberto Mondesi signs a long-term deal
This typically happens in spring training, or on the eve of the start of the season, but with Mondesi exploding in the second half of last season, it seems like a good time to lock him up to a long-term deal.
I wouldn’t expect the Royals to get some massive hometown discount like they did with Salvador Perez’s first deal, and I don’t think Mondesi will settle for the kind of deal Tim Anderson signed with the White Sox. Over a year ago, Shaun put a potential deal at eight years, $47 million. I think Mondesi would probably go for a shorter, and more lucrative deal now that he has flashed some high upside.
I don’t want to speculate too much on his situation, but as the son of a Major Leaguer, he likely grew up with some affluence, and the need to sign a deal early in his career isn’t as urgent as it might be for someone whose parents could use a new house. So it is possible he bets on himself and goes through the arbitration process.
But having some financial stability is nice, and the Royals would probably like the cost certainty. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a five- or even six-year deal that buys out a year of free agency (Mondesi is on track right now to hit free agency by age 27). The Royals need a new face for the franchise, and Mondesi has the highest upside of anyone in the organization.
Mike Matheny becomes the heir apparent as skipper
There is enough smoke here that it seems almost inevitable, doesn’t it? The Royals have been rumored to be talking to the former Cardinals skipper, one of at least three teams interested in him in an unspecified role. He would likely be an adviser here for a year, with the idea he would almost certainly take over for Ned Yost a year from now if Ned retires. This was the same process that got Ned here in the first place - he was hired as an adviser, then took over as manager when Trey Hillman was fired.
The Royals have hinted they want someone in the organization to take over, but recent repotrs have them preferring someone with managerial experience. Matheny could offer both if he spends a year learning in the organization. There are a lot of red flags with Matheny and how he handled a clubhouse in St. Louis, but it is also possible he learned from his experience there, and hiring a manager who has won a pennant in a (sigh, I don’t want to say this, but...) well-run organization could give the team more stability through a rebuild than an inexperienced rookie skipper.
It’s going to be a sloooow off-season
This will likely be one of the quietest off-seasons in Royals history. The team wants to cut payroll, but doesn’t have any contract they can move or are willing to move. They have few tradeable assets that they are willing to deal. Their roster is populated with a lot of young players that have enough talent to be intriguing but still have many questions surrounding them.
In other words, the team is in a holding pattern. There were signs of optimism late last year, but next season will give us a much better idea of where this rebuild is headed. So don’t expect much bold action this winter. And if you have any ideas on what we can write about, let us know, because brother, the hot stove is as ice cold as the weather in Kansas City.